Mad Catz came to E3 2012 with a lot of things to prove to a lot of people. Especially now, with game publishing joining peripheral development in the company's business plan. It's been a wild year for Mad Catz so far, with big wins on the hardware and software side both. That all amounts to a lot of stuff that gamers like us will be interested in.
In the realm of what's coming soon, Mad Catz will be supporting the Wii U with a range of officially licensed products. The literal centerpiece of this collection is the duo of a Wii U GamePad Charge Dock and a new Wii Remote Charge Dock. These two base stations are modular and can be linked together, back-to-back. They've also got a few unique and entirely welcome design quirks.
On the Wii Remote dockside, you get two protective sheaths for your controllers and two batteries fitted with magnets. The magnets allow your charging Wii Remote to simply attach to the surface of the charger; there's technically no "dock" for your controllers to sit in, they just sort of hang there. As for the GamePad dock, it uses the same charging cable for the device that you'll get with your console. The GamePad itself will also sit on a pivoted hinge, allowing you to angle it for easier viewing while it's charging.
Also confirmed on the Wii U front is a flipstand cover for the GamePad. It's essentially the Mad Catz take on Apple's iPad SmartCover, but for the Wii U GamePad. There's no magnet to turn your screen on and off of course, but the whole thing folds around your GamePad, protecting the screen in its closed state and serving as a kickstand in its open state. Mad Catz is also working on an F.P.S. Pro controller, an alternative to Nintendo's own dual analog Wii U controller that uses a layout modeled after Xbox 360 gamepads.
On the headset front, there are two marquee offerings coming up. The first is the new Kunai line for Tritton, an entry-level headset that will come in four different versions, for your PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, or Wii U. The price point for these will be $50 ($60 for the PS3 version, USB cable included) and they'll all be available in August save for the Wii U model, which will be available at the console's launch. In fact, all of the above-mentioned Wii U items, save for the still-unconfirmed F.P.S. Pro controller, will be out at launch.
The flagship piece of Mad Catz hardware for E3 2012 falls at the higher end of the headset spectrum. You might have read about it already: Tritton's Warhead 7.1 cans. Glancing quickly at the specs, you could easily shrug and write this off as yet another high-end gaming headset, one that Mad Catz will be selling for "less than $300." Something that undoubtedly sounds great, but not fundamentally different from the many other available options.
There's a catch though. This Xbox 360-exclusive headset is entirely wireless. Not wireless with a Bluetooth (or some other USB) dongle that needs to slot into your console. Proper wireless. Using Microsoft's security chip, the same one that prevents third-party peripheral makers from delivering truly wireless products for the Xbox 360.
Mad Catz landed an exclusive deal for this one, and so the Warhead will officially be the only true wireless third-party headset for Microsoft's console when it launches this August. It delivers great sound over the 5.8 GHz band, eliminating sound compression, cutting down on the interference you might normally get from Wi-Fi/Bluetooth signals, and giving you a longer range. You'll also see a battery meter reading every time you hit the Xbox 360 Guide button, just like you would when using a proper wireless earpiece from Microsoft.
The Warhead package includes a base station with an adapter that allows you to connect with any model of Xbox 360 console. You've got all of the usual Dolby trappings, an equalizer that optimizes sound for music, movies, or gaming, an analog audio input for connecting iPods and the like, the ability to sync multiple headsets with a single base station, and a handy little red light on the headsets mic that turns on and is clearly visible whenever you're muted. The box will also include two interchangeable batteries, allowing you to charge one while using another.
By all appearances, the Warhead seems like an exceedingly solid piece of tech, perhaps the best we've seen yet from Mad Catz. We'll have to put it through its paces of course and see how it fares in a proper live setting, but on paper it certainly looks like a winner.
Over on the other side of the Mad Catz business is its new game publishing arm. The first new title to be released under the company's banner will be Damage Inc.: Pacific Squadron from the Australian developer Trickstar Games. The World War II-set flight combat game also serves as a vehicle for introducing yet another new Mad Catz peripheral: the Pacific AV8R FlightStick.
Now you could be forgiven for assuming that the game is merely a tool to sell the flightstick. Peripherals are at the heart of Mad Catz after all, and packaging a self-published game with a new peripheral seems like an easy win. Imagine my surprise then when I settled in with Damage Inc. and found a game that actually feels like it'll be worth your time.
The nuts and bolts of the game are as follows: the campaign spans 23 missions, each of which offers multiple primary objectives as well as a handful of secondary and secret objectives. As you play you'll unlock the game's 30+ aircraft and you'll use points that you earn to upgrade your rides. The story opens with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and continues on through the Pacific Theater engagements, ending at the Battle of Iwo Jima. There's also a multiplayer mode for up to eight players and drop-in/drop-out co-op throughout the campaign for up to four.
The AV8R takes a bit of getting used to, with the throttle situated behind the flight stick and front-mounted switches serving as your LB and RB buttons (on an Xbox 360 version of the controller). Those shoulder buttons are very useful in the game; holding one down activates a boost mode to help you covering great distances more quickly and tapping the other activates an unlimited use time-dilation mode that is nothing short of necessary in a dogfight. In addition to pushing and pulling on the flight stick for big turns, you can also twist it left and right to play with the yaw rotation.
Once I got the hang of it, I found myself soaring over the Pacific and nailing kills all over the place. This is arcade-style flight combat at its finest; real-life physics are thrown out the window as you weave twisting patterns through the sky and bring your weapons to bear on enemy fighters. Some of the balancing seems to be a little off, but the game and FlightStick aren't out until August 28.
Damage Inc. obviously isn't a AAA title, but it seems to hold its own just fine as a fun experience and it makes good use of the AV8R controller. Look for it in stores before the summer is over, either as a $50 standalone game or as a bundle that includes the FlightStick, for $100.